On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sounded alarm bells regarding the perilous conditions of Russian journalists.
At the 2008 International Human Rights Day Awards Ceremony, she presented the Freedom Defenders Award for exceptional courage and leadership to Yulia Latynina, an independent journalist, writer and radio host from Russia. Mrs. Latynina was honored for exposing corruption, abuse of power and human-rights violations perpetrated by Russia’s governing class. Mrs. Latynina also defended fellow journalists who are often suppressed, intimidated or brutalized. “In Russia, we are seeing disturbing efforts to increase control over, and pressure, the media, as part of the emergence of clearly authoritarian trends,” said Miss Rice.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a watchdog group, states that Russia is now the third most dangerous place to be a journalist, after Iraq and Algeria. Since 1992, 49 journalists have been murdered in Russia and hundreds are victimized every year.
Two cases, in particular, have recently captured international headlines. Russian journalist Mikhail Beketov wrote a series of articles in his newspaper, Khimkinskaya Pravda, against local authorities who wanted to build a highway through a forest near his home. His car was set ablaze in May 2007. Yet, he did not relent in his campaign. He was further warned at a rally to stop writing, but again he persisted. On Nov. 13, he was found in a pool of blood after having been severely beaten. His right leg has now been amputated. Also grabbing international attention is the trial of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist shot dead in her apartment in October 2006. Despite the many threats against her, she had been chronicling the Russian campaign in Chechnya, causing much unease in Russia’s highest governing circles.
In its annual report, Reporters Without Borders chronicled that Russian journalists are expected to support the regime. Members of opposition parties, and journalists who attempt to give rivals fair coverage, are suppressed. In some cases, journalists are beaten or even forcibly sent to psychiatric hospitals. Also, there is little effort to prosecute those who commit such crimes - and even those who are assigned to these investigations are afraid to solve the cases because the trail might implicate those in power.
In campaigning before March elections, President Dmitry Medvedev promised to liberalize Russia. The freedom of the press is a cornerstone of a vibrant democracy. If Mr. Medvedev wants the international community to respect the legitimacy and credibility of his government, he should begin by letting the truth within Russia be told by those who pursue it. In the meantime, international pressure should be brought to bear to end the suppression and abuse of journalists and raise the flag of the freedom of the press.